The Perfect Writing Conference Scholarship Essay

June 21, 2017 § 3 Comments

Sara Goudarzi shares her decidedly brilliant application letter:

zz Goudarzi

Dear Tonawanda Writers Conference application committee,

I’d like to be considered for a writing fellowship to attend the 17th annual TWC this summer. I’m currently polishing my novel, which I’ve been working on for as long as your conference has been running, maybe longer. That’s just one example of how dedicated I am to my craft.

My literary speculative crime novel tells the story of a suburban man searching for his missing wife. Soon he realizes that he’s hunting for more than just his partner but also for their pet hamster that’s gone rogue. As he journeys through the subway stations of New York City looking for the fetid rodent, he comes across his wife’s hooker sister (who in a twist turns out to be the protagonist’s aunt) and saves her from playing the ukulele in a boho dress for money at Union Square. In the process of journeying through a hidden underworld he collides with a psychic cat and an orange-haired thief out to kill him and embezzle money from the U.S. Department of Treasury. Will Josh be able to use his time traveling superpowers to find Fluffenuget, save his marriage and avoid the downfall of the nation’s economy?

I think your committee has the vision to understand the uniqueness of my narrative written in the style of Raymond Carver—with whom, according to ancestry.com, I share two percent DNA and whose third cousin’s grandson I hung out with and chatted craft for a couple of days—unlike all those “literary” agents who are ignoring me. They’ll be sorry, believe me. Especially when I land that seven-figure book deal and M. Night Shyamalan turns Marmota Annals into a movie.

Giving me this scholarship could, actually will, put your conference on the literary map (let’s face it, you’re not exactly Bread Loaf). And if you don’t, you’ll be haunted by guilt for all your days after I win all the literary prizes. This is Pulitzer, Man Booker material. All I need is someone to realize it and to help me with edits, which you can do. In fact, I’ll be happy to just email the opening 450 or so pages to you for some light revision, maybe some structural work and you’ll see, it’ll blow you away like the kite in The Kite Runner—see what I did there? That’s the kind of clever wordplay you’ll find in my MS.

So please consider giving me the fellowship and don’t be like all those dumbasses that passed on signing The Beatles. Marmota Annals could be your I Want to Hold Your Hand. 

Thank you,

Sara

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Sara Goudarzi is a Brooklyn writer and editor. Born in Tehran, she was raised in Iran, Kenya and the U.S. Her writing has appeared in National Geographic News, The Christian Science Monitor, Scientific American, Taos Journal of Poetry and Art, The Adirondack Review, The Globe and Mail and Drunken Boat and featured in an upcoming poetry anthology. Sara is the author of Amazing Animals and four other titles from Scholastic Inc. She recently completed her first novel and is at work on a second.

That Writer

June 7, 2017 § 26 Comments

Dorothy Parker showed a lot of wtf smilies to fellow members of the Algonquin Round Table.

That Writer. Every writing group or class has one. The person who talks more than everyone else combined. Who comes in stoned, or just high on life. Who interrupts the teacher we’ve all paid big bucks/gone through a tedious application process to hear. Who comments as if they themselves are the teacher. Who says things like “Well, you know what Flannery O’Connor said” as if we all know exactly what Flannery O’Conner said, and it wasn’t “Nobody cares, shut up.”

Look around the table. Do you see That Writer? No no, don’t point—Instead, draw a smiley face expressing pain and show it to the writer next to you by turning your notebook on the table.

If you can clearly identify That Writer, I’m sorry, there’s nothing you can do. Practice your expressive smileys, and how to say “could you unpack that a little more?” with respectful seriousness for the days you haven’t done the assignment and are trying to run out the clock (That Writer has their usefulness!).

Wait—what? You don’t see That Writer? Oh dear. Ask yourself these questions:

Do you carry a bag of pens? Do you rummage in this bag more than once per class?

Have you ever cut your nails in class, you know, just that once when you had a bad hangnail and it was under the table and really quiet, not at all like it might be additional punctuation in the story of whoever was reading out loud at the time?

Does your jewelry make a delightful collection of wooden and metallic sounds?

Have you ever entered the room prior to class to find a previously arrived fellow-writer typing vigorously, earbuds in, and signaled that you need their attention? When they remove one earbud and say “yes?” in a sharpish tone, have you then courteously let them know you just need to use the printer and will that be OK? Did you then sing quietly to yourself while printing?

Have you written a chapbook of poetry, not self-published by any means but issued by the small independent press you own that has published several of your chapbooks and those of two other writers? Would you like to give a copy of that chapbook to every member of the class, and a few days later discuss it over coffee?

Do you often have a different interpretation of the work being discussed, possibly rooted in Freudian theory or any psychology named after a dead Slav?

Do you make sounds that people think indicate you are about to speak, but you are in fact just signaling agreement or a blocked sinus?

Have you ever started a comment with, “Well, this may be a little far afield, but this just puts me in mind of Wittgenstein, when he says…” and ended that comment four hundred words later with “does anyone else get that?” Were you discussing a humorous parenting memoir?

Have you come to a class where the guideline is five pages and indicated that your twelve pages of 1.5-spaced, 10-point sans-serif is “really a pretty quick read”? Is there an explicit sex scene on page 9? Does it have anal? Do you need to discuss how anal sex symbolically represents your relationship with the patriarchy/your creative muse/your mother?

Look at the body language of the person on your right: is that writer scooted to the extreme other edge of their chair, tilting toward the teacher as far as possible without falling off? Are you sure the chair-legs are uneven?

Have you ever said, “I know we’re not really workshopping today but perhaps we could just talk through my pages sentence-by-sentence?”

Are you disturbed by the number of questions you’re answering yes to? Are you just trying to help? Have you noticed other writers angling their notebooks towards each other, scribbling what can only be pictographs of the deep emotional reaction they can barely contain in response to your work? All is not lost!

First, take your pages for today’s reading. When you get to page six, rip it off and any following pages and throw them in the recycle bin. Trust that your lengthy story summary prior to reading will cover it. If there are any chapbooks in your bag, remove them. Have you smoked pot yet today? Skip it. If that horse is already out of the barn, maybe consider taking a sick day and coming to class next week instead. Or smoking later today, especially if it’s a 10AM class. Now remove your jewelry. Select a single pen and one additional backup pen, leaving your pen-bag aside. Check your manicure. Once in class, open your writing notebook. Every time you think of something to say, write it down. Make a tick mark by anything you thought that anyone else says. Now you don’t have to say it. Of every five remaining un-ticked comments, speak one of them. Then bask in your Buddha-like silence and smile wisely.

And don’t ever quote Wittgenstein again.

 

_____________________________________________

Allison K Williams is Brevity’s Social Media Editor. She’s been That Writer at least once. Find her on Twitter @guerillamemoir.

Never Call Yourself a Writer, and Other Rules for Writing

April 12, 2017 § 44 Comments

shawna kenneyBy Shawna Kenney

First thought, best thought; revise, revise, revise. Write first thing in the morning when the mind is alert; write at night and never while sober. Do it alone, in an office with the door closed, surrounded by books; write in coffee shops, surrounded by stimulating characters and conversation. Use traditional quotation marks and capitalization Unless You Are a ‘Genius.’ Journal in longhand; always type fast. Sentences longer than three or four lines are unacceptable and tedious, unless you are William Faulkner, William Beckett, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Jamaica Kincaid, Virginia Woolf, John Updike, Charles Dickens, Gabriel García Márquez, David Foster Wallace or one of those other people who can get away with it. Short is good.

Write with an ideal reader in mind; fuck the audience. Never show anyone an early draft; find a workshop for feedback. Write to please everyone; quit workshop and hire an editor. Take classes to improve; don’t go to college—you’ll lose your voice. Don’t send work out until it’s ready; submit early and often—it’ll never be perfect. Find a guru. Trust yourself. Kill your darlings. Study the masters and steal their attributes, but never plagiarize—even from yourself.

Don’t write a memoir until you’re ninety; write a memoir while you’re young and events are still fresh; write many memoirs. Write about what’s eating you; eat while you write, or write on an empty stomach. When writing nonfiction, recreate scenes you don’t fully remember; only use facts and information that is verifiable. Show your family your work; never share what you’ve written with those you’ve written about—you are the ultimate authority on your life.

Get a big desk. Keep a notebook in your pocket. Write for two consecutive hours each day. Sneak writing in on 15-minute breaks. Take long naps. Get up early and write before everyone else is awake; stay up late and write when everyone is in bed. Write on napkins, grocery receipts, scrap paper, on your phone or computer, or only in a Moleskin.  Write in pen. Always write in pencil first. Special writing software makes you more organized and gets you published faster. Write to get paid. Never expect money for your writing. Value your skills and charge what you’re worth. People who write for money are hacks. People who make money writing are lucky. Say this writing mantra every day: I am my own mantra. Never call yourself a writer until someone else does. Feel free to call yourself a writer, as long as you are writing. Fiction is thinly-veiled memoir. Memoir is mostly fiction. Poetry is useless. Poets are crazy blessed saints. Deep down, we all want to be poets.

Make an outline, then tear up the map and feel your way through. If you don’t know where you’re going, you can’t get there. All art is a process of discovery. Write what you know. Write to figure out what you don’t know. Write for your dead mother, your sweet pup, your unborn baby, or the ancestors you never knew. Write for yourself. Don’t write unless you can write the right way. Just write.

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Shawna Kenney is the author of I Was a Teenage Dominatrix, editor of the anthology Book Lovers: Sexy Stories from Under the Covers  and co-author of the forthcoming Live at the Safari Club: A History of Punk in the Nation’s Capital. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, Vice, Playboy, Ms., and Creative Nonfiction, among others.

Hi! You are About to be Rejected from Our Quarterly

April 5, 2017 § 22 Comments

zz_candlerBy Pete Candler

Last week I received a very odd email from a notable Quarterly Magazine, in which the new Executive Director pre-warned me that I would soon receive a rejection notice for a submission I made to the journal over two years ago, which submission I withdrew in December.  Here is my response:

10:01 PM
Hello,

Hello!

My name is XXXXX…

Hi, XXXXX!

…and I am writing you as the new Executive Director at XXXXX Quarterly.

Hey, congratulations! So is this your first email as Executive Director? I’m sure it’s going to be great!

I know it’s been quite some time since you’ve received word from us about your Quarterly submission…

Oh, that! I was starting to wonder about you guys. I assumed you went belly-up, or maybe there was a grease fire or something. That was—what? —December 2014? Thanks for assuming I’m still alive at this point, though!

…and I want to apologize for that. Our staff is quite small and…

No, don’t sweat it! I am sure y’all have been insanely busy—

…the Quarterly was on a long (too long!) hiatus.

—Oh. Nevermind.

A long hiatus, huh? Where’d you go? Mar-a-Lago? I hear that place is kind of hard to stay away from. And with a hiatus program like that, can I come work for you? Because I really like not working with as few other people as possible.

I am excited to announce that we sent our 49th issue to press…

Forty-ninth! Wow, congrats, y’all! Are you still writing each one out by hand?

…and subscribers will receive their copy in the next six weeks.

That is so great. I am so happy for them!

We’ll also reopen our submissions very, very soon!

[whistling “When the Saints Go Marching In”]

Please note that you will soon receive a rejection notice for your former submission.

Oh. Well that’s a new one. Never had a pre-rejection notice before. That’s so sweet. Most journals only let you down you one time. But you’ve given me the opportunity to experience rejection twice! You guys—always bucking convention!

To be honest, it’s been so long since I submitted the thing you’re referring to that I’m not even sure what you’re referring to. I’m not even the same person I was when I sent that to you. I have had another kid since then. But don’t worry about it—I don’t think I sent you a birth announcement.

Oh, and by the by—I withdrew the submission after two years. I’m sorry if I was a little hasty! The kid is talking now, though!

We highly encourage you to resubmit in April if you are still interested.

Why wouldn’t I be interested? I’ve waited this long, what’s a few more years of my life? 

One thing, though: could I give you the contact information for my attorney, in the event that I am deceased by the time I hear back from you if I decide to resubmit? She is handling all of my posthumous publications.

Please do expect a wait time of 4-6 weeks while we get back up to speed.

4-6 weeks? Did you mean to type “weeks”? Is that lunar weeks? Or like Book of Genesis weeks?

Thank you so much for your interest in XXXX Quarterly! I hope to hear more from you soon.

You bet! But just in case you don’t, rest assured that my silence is in no way an indication of merit or interest in the journal.

 

10:22 PM
Hello again,

Oh hey! That was fast. I was just in the middle of writing you too! Two years of absolute silence from you all and then two emails in twenty-one minutes! I’m starting to feel a special bond with you, XXXXX.

Because so many have already asked…

Ah. Nevermind.

… please allow me to clarify: The impending rejection is merely an administrative necessity to re-open submissions and allow those still interested to submit again (or submit a newer piece) in April.

Well why didn’t you just say so? Not that I understand the term “administrative necessity,” me being an artist and all. But do continue!

It is in no way an indication of merit or interest in the piece.

Uh huh. I liked it better when you were bucking convention and pre-breaking up with me. But this line sounds familiar. 

I do apologize if that was unclear. Please feel free to ask more questions. We’re deeply interested in reading your work!

How deep is your love?

__

Pete Candlers scholarly and creative work has been rejected by a wide range of some of the finest and most illustrious journals in the land, including Modern Theology, Poetry, and The New Yorker, which once returned an unsolicited manuscript (circa 1997) submission with no note or letter but with a simple but thorough slash through the pages. Candler lives in Asheville, North Carolina, where he writes fiction and essays. He is currently preparing a manuscript for rejection by The Atlantic. His twitter handle: @tweetcandler

 

I’m Writing Like a M*****F***** Again: A Thank You Note to DJ Trump

February 6, 2017 § 26 Comments

IMG_0004.JPGFrom Nina Gaby
Brookfield, Vermont

May I call you DJ? This here is just a little thank you note.

First off, thanks for getting me back in the pool. Last time I was this depressed, DJ, was right after Reagan’s election. I’d just stopped drinking. I was all sorts of bloated and baggy-eyed and wow, if I didn’t just swim my way out of that depression and addiction! I was gorgeous! Not a “10” but I bet you’d have looked twice at me, all artsy and zaftig1. I’m older now and have Thoracic Outlet Syndrome and shoulder stuff and can’t really swim, but I’m in the pool again. I strap on one of those belts and jog back and forth, back and forth, just thinking about you.

And who knew pink was my color? I never wear hats. But that march, well, a whole new me.

In a way, DJ, you may also be giving me more job security than I can even handle, though that’s certainly a bit of a mixed blessing. You see, I’m an addictions specialist and psychiatric nurse practitioner, so “good for business” does not necessarily mean good. Of course, if you and your buds decide to dismantle Social Security and Medicare, I’ll need the continued income for my own medical expenses.

Or bail, as the case may be.

Big shout-out dude for signing that anti-immigrant executive order exactly on Holocaust Remembrance Day, though you did somehow forget to mention the Jews. We felt a little left out. Thanks to you, though, I made a special trip to Michael’s Crafts to get a few squares of yellow felt so I could make Jewish Stars (Like sheriff’s badges! You remember!), but then the thought of wearing them prematurely seemed too radical even for me.

Speaking of that, what’s up with Ivanka and her shoulders? When I lived in Israel and went sleeveless through the religious quarter they threw bricks at me. I love that Ivanka got permission to drive home from Inauguration even though it was past nightfall on Erev Shabbat. Maybe one of the things you can do to prove that you really love the Jews is insist no one schedule important events on Saturdays. With a stroke of the pen I bet you can just do that. The thought of it makes me feel pretty darn important. And popular.

And last but not least DJ, let’s not forget social media. I’m no dexterous Twitter genius like you are with those cute little fingers of yours, but I know my way around Facebook and because of you I have so many more friends! I even belong to a book group, the first I’ve ever been invited to, and we are reading a book and it’s about you. Thanks again.

I get a lot more “likes” on my posts than I used to, on all my resistance action plans and silly little memes. How about the clown with the orange hair climbing out of that quaint barn? I stopped on my way to work to snap that. So inspired!

And you know what? I’m writing like a little motherfucker, excuse the language. Because of you I’m getting essays accepted and my fat little fingers just can’t stay off the keyboard.

Well I’ve got postcards to write, and I don’t want to take up any more of your limited reading time. Just wanted to reach out and be that change I want to see in the world.2

In synergy3, NG

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 1 Zaftig (Yiddish) Means plumply succulent and juicy, womanly. Just the way you like us. Being from NYC I probably didn’t need to define that.

  2 From a quote by M. Gandhi, (1869-1948) Indian pacifist who was assassinated by an extremist who did not like Gandhi’s tolerance of Muslims, among other things.

 3 When everything just seems to come together like magic.

 ___

Nina Gaby is a writer, visual artist, and psychiatric nurse practitioner. She is the editor of Dumped: Stories of Women Unfriending Women published by She Writes Press in 2015. Most recently her creative nonfiction is appearing in Diagram, Proximity, Mslexia, Entropy Magazine, the new Seal Press anthology, How Does That Make You Feel? Confessions from Both Sides of the Couch, among other collections. Gaby is a runner-up in the Quarter-After-Eight short prose contest, and has work coming out in Rock and Sling and the anthology A Second Blooming. She infrequently blogs at www.ninagaby.com. Her sculptural porcelain is in the National Collection of the Renwick at the Smithsonian, and Arizona State University’s permanent collection. She exhibits her mixed media book art in venues in Vermont where she lives and works in a very old house across from the longest floating bridge east of the Mississippi. Politically active on social media, Gaby worries a great deal about algorithms.

I Am A Genius Writer In The Night Hours As Proven By These 3 AM Ruminations Gifted By The Muse And Recorded On My Notes App

February 1, 2017 § 13 Comments

zsarahbroussardweaverBy Sarah Broussard Weaver

When I wake in the night to pee, I am often blessed by thoughts that are, quite frankly, genius-level. They just flow into my brain like manna from Heaven. I must then decide whether or not to blind myself by unlocking my brightly backlit phone and jotting them in my Notes app.

Sometimes I choose to spare my eyeballs, and the world loses these priceless ruminations. I apologize for my failings in this area, and to make up for it, I am sharing some of my actual notes, which are mind-blowing and may make the world implode when they are released, pure and unadulterated, into so many minds at once.

These are presented just as they flowed down to me, so they are perfect and not misspelled or otherwise flawed. Respect the Muse. If you use any as a writing prompt, please send a small token of your gratitude. I do accept PayPal.

  1. In those nights if waking sweating and shoving off blankets to be turned cold and shivering
  2. Ideas for what happened to trumps something
  3. Dad is missing link
  4. Brain doesn’t make connections roads maps oh how did we end up here?
  5. Trump America rules- dead rat hair sexiest
  6. It’s quite right then I something it’s kind of right that something it’s not right at all that something
  7. Here comes a jelly roll all dressed up and ready to go
  8. Adraid of world never been in by hone school
  9. Things I’m surprised the president has not gotten defensive about- hair etc
  10. potato chip walls
  11. Beautiful names for ugly things bluebottle fly cabbage rose opposite?
  12. Lit critmy life
  13. Maybe c mixed with bup and sert
  14. Leaky vessel making drops of life
  15. I can’t tell how much is passing I keep staring at my burge
  16. He says affected him sleepingly
  17. This busy world writing is what makes me know what I think, because I think these things and I don’t have anyone to say them to for everyone is busy and we’re all busy really that my notebook or laptop is always there when I have time to try to figure out what it is that makes us human or that makes me long for thaT

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Sarah Broussard Weaver’s essays have been published in Hippocampus, Full Grown People, The Nervous Breakdown, and The Bitter Southerner, among others. She graduated last month from University of Portland, and is now a nervous MFA applicant who refreshes her email too often. Find her at sbweaver.com or tweet her @sarahbweaver.

On the Pleasures of Not Writing

September 19, 2016 § 5 Comments

zz Peter New Headshot by Katinka Neuhof

Peter Selgin (photo by Katinka Neuhof)

By Peter Selgin

Not writing has many advantages. You can walk with both hands in your pockets. You can peel and eat an orange. Other fruits, too, become accessible to the non-writer.

When not writing it is possible to participate in all kinds of physical activities unavailable to writers. Swimming comes to mind, as well as other water sports such as water skiing and scuba diving. Operating any kind of watercraft, even a small rowboat or sailboat, is inadvisable while writing.

Although thinking is still possible when writing, it is not nearly as pleasurable. Among other things one is constantly interrupted if not entirely waylaid by concerns of grammar, spelling, usage, not to mention syntax, structure, and style. Writing takes most if not all the fun out of thinking.

One should never drive or operate heavy machinery while writing. Conversely, those who do not write are far better disposed to enjoy operating (for instance) a bulldozer.

Anecdotal evidence strongly suggests that sexual performance is enhanced by not writing.

John Updike, a famous author, observed that “the pleasures of not writing are so great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again.” This is just as true in reverse. The pleasures of writing are so few one would be wise never to start in the first place.

Similarly, though Walter Benjamin tells us “Never stop writing because you have run out of ideas,” I say, “Never start writing just because you have ideas.”

Not writing isn’t for everyone. Some are so predisposed to the condition that, however hard they try, they can’t break the habit. Our hearts go out to them. Still, such people are best avoided. However genetic, their lack of self-control may be contagious.

Habits:

  1. Though some prefer the evening hours, and even the hours after midnight, for most the best time to not write is in the morning.
  2. Though sometimes I don’t write in notebooks and yellow legal pads, generally I prefer not to write on the computer.
  3. When not writing it’s best to let your thoughts flow freely. Try not to censor yourself.
  4. Choose a comfortable location, preferably out of direct sunlight. If you must not write outdoors, then be sure to wear sunscreen. Just because you’re not writing doesn’t mean you won’t burn!
  5. Remember, too, that like all good things not writing should be enjoyed in moderation. Don’t overdo it. Every so often, just to remind yourself of what you’re “missing,” you may want to pick up a pen or sit down at the computer and stare at a blank document. But don’t write anything. Just sit there calmly for a few moments appreciating the fact that, while you are perfectly free not to write, many others are not so lucky. Close your eyes and think about the poor devils for a moment or two. Say a little prayer for them if you’re so inclined. Or simply acknowledge their existence.
  6. Then put your pen down, turn off your computer, and go back to not writing.

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Peter Selgin’s essays have earned a dozen Best Notable Essay citations as well as two inclusions in the Best American series (Best American Essay 2006; Best American Travel Writing 2014). He is the author of Drowning Lessons, winner of the Flannery O’Connor Award for Fiction, a novel, two books on the craft of fiction, and two children’s books. His work has been published in Colorado Review, Missouri Review, The Sun, Glimmer Train, Creative Nonfiction, Fourth Genre, and other reviews, and has won the Missouri Review Editors’ Prize, the Dana Award, and many Pushcart Prize nominations. An essay collection, Confessions of a Left-Handed Manwas published by University of Iowa press and short-listed for the William Saroyan International Prize for Writing. Selgin’s second novel, The Water Master, won the Pirate’s Alley William Faulkner Society Prize. Of his first memoir, The Inventors, published in April, 2016, the Library Journal said, “It is book destined to become a modern classic.” He teaches at Antioch University’s low-residency MFA program and is Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at Georgia College & State University.

 

A Problem with Brevity

September 16, 2016 § 20 Comments

zz-blocker

The Loquacious Liz Blocker

by Liz Blocker

The writing advice guides all agree on one point: it’s essential to find your own style. This is all well and good, except that in its natural, unchecked state, my style is a catastrophic landslide of prose.

In other words, I am incapable of being brief.

When I write, sentences pour out in long unraveling skeins, or in a flood of white-capped, roiling snow-melt. Why use one metaphor when you can use two, or three? My word counts rise in a predictable pattern: first I worry about keeping to my target, then I wonder how flexible that target is, and then I realize I’ve written enough for five pieces, not one.

This problem has financial implications, too. It was one of these occasions that made me first wonder if this issue of mine was more than just a cute idiosyncrasy. My wife and I were working with a lawyer to draw up our estate plans: wills, healthcare proxies, power of attorney, and all the rest of the uplifting documents that tie the loose ends of your early and tragic death into a neat little bow. The lawyer sent us a draft, and I wrote an email in response. My wife peered over my shoulder as I was writing.

“Do you really need to explain why we don’t like that sentence?” Jen asked.

“Well, I want her to cut it,” I said.

“Can’t you just tell her to cut it?”

I was horrified. “Without explaining it to her first?”

Jen sighed, and plucked the lawyer’s last invoice from a pile of papers. “She charges $300 an hour,” she said. “That explanation is going to cost us $20.”

I deleted the sentence without a further word of protest.

Soon after, a fiction editor I’d hired recommended I turn up the volume on my inner critic. Probably she was tired of reminding me that I didn’t need to use three adjectives in every sentence, just because three is such a magical, intriguing, enticing number in storytelling. So, for a while, I tried to stem the rising flood. I edited as I wrote, cutting semi-colons in great swaths, reaping the harvest of repetitive synonyms. This strategy resulted in an electronic barn full of dead words, and a few very naked, rather dull pieces.

Inner critics are for losers, I thought, and silenced my own with a sledgehammer.

The result was more mountainous heaps of superfluous words. One night, I realized it had taken me five times longer to cut a piece than it had to write it. Two hours of my “natural” style, and ten of painstaking and painful work to slice the narrow, winding, lovely sentences into bare expressways. This was not a small problem; the piece was only supposed to be 800 words. Imagine how long a 3,000 word essay might take.

Shudder-worthy, isn’t it? I knew I had to do something drastic. Wasting my precious writing time on cutting was stupid, not to mention deadly boring.

Resigned, I went back to where I’d left my inner critic, lying in a puddle of her own red ink.

“Wake up,” I whispered, nudging her shoulder with my toe.

“No,” she said, keeping her eyes resolutely closed.

“Please?”

She opened her eyes long enough to give me a withering glare. Typical, I thought.

“Fine,” she said, “But I’m taking the sledgehammer.”

It wasn’t an easy truce. Although I wanted to change, the desire wasn’t as strong as the need to make sure I had explained everything in excruciating detail. My inner critic shrieked that I was obsessive and anxious, and bashed words into smithereens with the sledgehammer; I retaliated by stealing the sledgehammer back. More ink spilled. Violence was threatened.

And yet we’ve made progress. This piece only took me three times as long to cut as it did to write, which, as I’ve reminded my critic, is a three-hundred percent improvement! I would say more about that, but I’m out of space.

So I’ll just say, it’s an ongoing process. And that I –

– have to stop. Never mind.

__

Liz Blocker‘s essays have been published in a number of magazines and journals, including The ToastBrain, Child, and The Dallas Review. She lives in Boston, MA. When she’s not wrangling her infant twins, she’s writing, reading, running, or working as a massage therapist – or some combination thereof.

Wooing Brevity

May 16, 2014 § 6 Comments

imagesSandra Gail Lambert, author of the recent Brevity essay “Poster Children,” talks about the long process of wooing Brevity‘s fickle editors:

It all began with a piece called “Horror in the Okefenokee” which I thought was irresistibly funny what with that part about my butt looking like a bad comb over.  Brevity didn’t laugh, and in 2006 our relationship began with a straight out rejection.  I was undeterred and in 2007 submitted again – this time with an essay immersed in loneliness and exhaustion.  My angst was rejected.  What the heck did these people want?  It wasn’t until 2010, after dallying with other journals and taking a few writing classes, that I wooed Brevity again.  And this time my essay “made the final rounds.”  I imagined a future for us.  I saw our names printed together in Helvetica, sometimes in Trebuchet.  2011 – another “made the final rounds” rejection just made me impatient.  When was Brevity going accept our shared destiny?  Then in 2012 I received the best rejection ever.  It had editorial advice.  It said I could resubmit.  No one getting dressed for a first date dithered more than I did on that essay.  I pulled out sentences and left them spread out at the bottom of the page.  I rearranged paragraphs.  I put sentences back in but with the phrases reversed.  And in 2013, after seven years of pursuit, the e-mail said “yes I said yes I will Yes.”  (Okay, maybe that was just in my mind, but it did have “yes” in there somewhere.)

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